Sunday, May 19, 2013
Thoughts on a Manifesto
The new culture of learning is one where learning takes place all the time, everywhere, and according to learners’ own preferences and motivations. Disappearing quickly are the rigor, expectations, and outcomes provided by the structures of a traditional education; and coming to the fore is an autonomous learner, who is her own authority on what’s relevant, germane, vital to her own education. Wide and resounding is the call: “The learner has changed! And so has learning changed!” And it follows that if they wish to survive, institutions of learning must change, too.
I won't disagree, but I wonder if he wants to fly on an airplane designed by people who no longer adhere to the traditional rigor and expectations of old fashioned engineers? An airplane (or a commuter train track?) designed and maintained by someone who only knows what ze deems relevant?
One thing our students thank us for when they return after a few years as a transfer student is rigor. They need it to catch up with students who were well ahead when they left HS.
I think that the move to replace the conventional teacher lecturing to students in a bricks-and-mortar classroom with online material taught in a MOOC or by a series of self-paced modules stored on some computer server somewhere will only work for students who are already well-motivated and who arrive at college with strong backgrounds from high school. I teach math, physics, and computers at Proprietary Art School, and I have found that most of our students are not all that well prepared, especially in math. Many of them slept through their math classes in high school, many imagine that mathematics is of no use to them, and many can’t even add fractions.
Most of these students have to take remedial math courses. In the remedial math courses at my school, part of the course consists of students using MyMathLab, a Pearson product which has students do their math homework online. But not every high school graduate is computer-literate, many do not have a computer at home, and many have difficulty in adapting to a computer-based environment. Many of the students have trouble in doing their homework this way, and some of them get so frustrated that they don’t bother to do the online homework at all. If one were to turn such students loose in an environment in which the course is entirely computer-driven and self-paced , most of them would probably flounder and fail, having no instructor to guide them.
How does one use the MOOC on-line approach to teach laboratory courses or courses that require a lot of hands-on training? Would I want to fly on an airplane whose pilot took all of his training on the flight simulator?
Ever since my unschooling days I've wondered... people regularly told me things like "well it's great that it worked for you, but most people aren't like you". While I am weird as all get out, I could never tell if I was really weird on this front. It seems perfectly self evident to me- everyone is capable of self-directed learning. Everyone has different interests, and not everyone's interests will naturally lead to success in self-directed learning that is traditionally valued in academic institutions. So how would we know if everyone is an autodidact, we just only notice it for the few people who have quirkily academic inclinations?
Anyone who was "raised an academic", or just particularly weird/geeky in a fashion like myself, feels like a kid in a candy store with the MOOCs, and indeed the digital revolution in information access broadly. It would be easy for anyone so excited to see this as a revolutionary change- when really, most people simply will never benefit from it. If you don't like the institutions (and bravo to Morris for calling out research based university undergrad curricula as "the most vacuous of pedagogies"), it's also easy to see a need for a revolution that not everyone sees. I agree with him that community colleges are better positioned than most 4 year institutions for such a revolution, and I will also grant that a quiet mini-revolution of autodidacts may well occur within them... but I don't know if it can really go mainstream.
Likely because x-rated science people are themselves autodidacts and who did need the lessons.
And also because they were hardest bitten by constructionist math.
Some times the developmental students aspire to become self-directed learners: Why don't I make up my own Pythagoras law?
Most institutions have a cap on the number of independent study classes, and here is a reason why.